House Republicans on Wednesday passed a bill to raise the borrowing limit and implement sweeping spending cuts, marking a victory for Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) after days of grueling negotiations that put the deep divisions within the GOP conference on full display.
The bill — dubbed the Limit, Save, Grow Act — cleared the chamber 217-215. Republican Reps. Ken Buck (Colo.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Tim Burchett (Tenn.) joined every voting Democrat in opposition.
The vote came hours after Republican leaders made a handful of last-minute, late-night tweaks to the legislation to lock down support from several GOP lawmakers whose opposition had threatened to sink the bill in the narrow majority.
“It takes a lot of work when you have that slimmer majority,” Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, told The Hill on Wednesday. “You have to manage the questions, you have to manage the expectations of members that may have a concern, how that’s gonna impact them back home or what they have an issue with personally.”
The bill faces no chance of moving in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday called it “an extremist hard-right agenda.”
House Republicans, however, see the measure as their opening offer in negotiations with President Biden to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
The White House — which slammed the GOP proposal — has been adamant that it wants a “clean” debt limit increase, foreshadowing the challenge that awaits both sides in striking a deal to prevent a default.
“The president can no longer ignore by not negotiating,” McCarthy told reporters following the vote. “Sen. Schumer, if he thinks he’s got a plan, put it on the floor, see if you can pass it, and then we can go to conference. But now, the president can no longer put this economy in jeopardy.”
Shortly after the vote Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement Biden “has made clear this bill has no chance of becoming law,” and she re-upped the administration’s stance that it wants a debt limit hike “without conditions.”
The bill would raise the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion or through the end of next March, whichever happens first, in exchange for a wide range of Republican proposals to decrease government spending that, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), amount to $4.8 trillion.
The bill would cap federal funding hashed during the annual appropriations process at fiscal 2022 levels, while also limiting spending growth to 1 percent every year over the next decade.
Other pitches tucked into the plan would put an end to popular Biden administration student loan actions, beef up work requirements for programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and claw back already-approved coronavirus funds that have gone unspent.
The bill appeared to be on shaky ground as recently as Tuesday night, with several members either vowing to vote no or saying they were leaning that way.
Midwestern Republicans — including all four Iowa lawmakers — wanted to remove parts of the bill that would eliminate tax breaks for ethanol; conservatives were pushing for stronger work requirements; and moderate Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said she was concerned about the bill eliminating green tax credits and not doing enough to decrease the deficit.
McCarthy on Tuesday said he would not change the bill despite his colleagues’ concerns.
But it ultimately crossed the finish line after the Speaker and GOP leaders caved to Republican holdouts and changed portions overnight to shore up support amid mounting intra-party opposition.
Top Republicans agreed to implement work requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and SNAP in fiscal 2024 rather than fiscal 2025, and they got rid of provisions that would have nixed tax credits for biofuels.
Additionally, the conference added a grandfather clause to a section of the bill that eliminates sustainable aviation field and alternative fuel tax credits for those who had been eligible for them up until this point.
Those revisions were enough to move the needle for the bulk of the GOP holdouts, including the Iowa delegation and Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who told reporters last week that he was a “hard no” because he wanted stronger work requirements.
Republican leaders secured another boost Wednesday afternoon when Mace flipped her stance and said she would vote for the bill, telling reporters McCarthy said he will work with her on future legislation to reduce the country’s deficit, which sits at about $31.4 trillion.
“I feel heard by the Speaker, and I will support the debt-ceiling vote today because he listened to my concerns, he’s willing to work with us on our concerns about balancing the budget, and that was meaningful, it was productive, and I believe it’s going to be fruitful in the near future,” Mace said while exiting a meeting with McCarthy in the Speaker’s office.
But the big challenge for Republicans, now, is getting Biden and Senate Democrats to the negotiating table.
Democrats have been referring to the measure as the “Default on America (DOA) Act,” while they and Biden administration officials have sought to emphasize what effects the proposed cuts could have on government operations and the American public.
“That’s what the Default on America Act does. And not just that, it would eliminate over 142,000 new jobs, including 18,000 manufacturing jobs, that have been created since the Inflation Reduction Act was passed,” Schumer said Wednesday.
“If you’re a parent struggling to pay for child care, the Default on America Act will eliminate more than 105,000 child care slots across the country — making it harder for parents to find work, finish their education, or even provide for their families,” he added.
Republicans championing the bill touted the cuts as a means to put the country’s finances in order after the national debt ran up on the roughly $31.4 trillion limit in January. The CBO estimated on Tuesday the bill could put about $4.8 trillion toward deficit reduction over the next 10 years.
While the bill faces long odds in the upper chamber, Republicans see the measure as a starting position in debt limit negotiations with Democrats, who have otherwise refused to come to the bargaining table.
“Look, the president said that I want to see your plan,” said Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a close McCarthy ally, noting the bill has “much more specificity” than broader plans released by House GOP leaders that Democrats have panned.
“I think that this is absolutely a step in the right direction, and we need to get it moving and have serious negotiations,” he told The Hill earlier on Wednesday.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said, “It’s long past time that President Biden gets off the sidelines and does his job and gets to the negotiating table with Speaker McCarthy, so we can solve this problem and put America on a stronger financial footing that will benefit all Americans.”
Some Democrats have already prematurely downplayed the potential impact the bill would have on bipartisan debt limit talks, throwing cold water on chances they’ll feel the heat to negotiate fiscal reforms with Republicans following its passage.
“I mean if there’d been the slightest effort to accommodate Democrats, if they tried to get one Democrat vote, if the proposals weren’t on their face preposterous, then perhaps we might feel that way,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, told The Hill.
Others say the effort it took to get the partisan bill past the finish line in the lower chamber underlines the difficulty Republican leaders could face in getting a bipartisan bill through the chamber in the months ahead.
“I don’t know what the future holds. But they’ve invested an awful lot of time just to try to persuade their own members to go in this direction,” Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), the top Democrat on the House Rule Committee, argued on Wednesday. “I mean, to me, they made the bill worse last night.”
Emily Brooks contributed. Updated at 6:38 p.m.